I didn’t attend kindergarten so my initial encounter with numbers happened in first grade. One day, we were working on math problems. As we finished, the teacher let each of us choose a stick of modeling clay. The colors were red, green, brown, and gray. I really, really wanted red. Green would have been OK, but definitely not brown and certainly not gray. I urgently scratched numbers on the ruled paper with my fat, green pencil. Still, everyone who liked red beat me. Even green got snatched up. By the time I got to choose, I was stuck with brown.
Then came a test. I didn’t understand the problems the teacher wrote on the board. I decided if I made up my own problems, I would get an A. I viewed this as a great solution to an otherwise insurmountable dilemma. But I soon found the teacher disagreed. Furious and frustrated, she called my mother for a conference. On the paper was a big red F, circled several times.
“Why did you make up your own test?” Momma asked.
I answered, “I didn’t like the one on the board.”
My mother still has the test. I asked why she saved it. Only after I had grown up did she admit she had actually been proud of me.
Remember the student in Algebra class who asked the teacher, “Why do we have to know this? When would anybody ever use these problems?” Yeah, that was me.
But I loved Business Math. Why? Because money makes sense to me. And those courses solidified my understanding of the numbers I need to know as a literary agent.
So what does math have to do with writing? Nothing, and everything. As a freelance writer, you are a business person and need some understanding of numbers. And not just money. For instance, you need to know how many books you sell, what your profit is, and if you are being paid correctly.
I doubt I’ll ever fall in love with numbers. However, I do help my clients understand the business side of writing. This allows them to have more time to write. I am also blessed to be working with the amazing Steve Laube. He has a fantastic mind for numbers. I’ve witnessed him make statements off the top of his head such as, “Yes, that book sold 27,000 units in 1997.” When Steve and I are talking over a contract offer, we use numbers to form concrete data to we show the publisher why we are asking a certain amount of money for our author. Authors on their own who don’t understand each publisher’s personality and philosophy, or how to calculate their own worth, will be hard pressed to earn what they really deserve in today’s market.
In short, you don’t have to be a math major to run your writing business. But educate yourself as much as you can, and partner with a great agent. When you do, you may even finish work early enough to choose your favorite color of modeling clay.
From the business side, what do you think is the most puzzling aspect of writing?
What is your favorite business tip you’d like to share?